Phoenix Police Chief speaks about recent officer shootings

Phoenix police chief Michael Sullivan says the department has improved in the past seven months, but there's always room for further improvement.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 5:57 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — There were four police shootings in Phoenix from Saturday to Wednesday. On Thursday, Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan spoke to Arizona’s Family about the recent string of shootings.

“We have to be accountable with that, but we also have to balance that conversation with the force being used against officers,” Sullivan said. “We are committed to keeping the residents of Phoenix safe.”

In 2023, there have been nine shootings involving Phoenix Police so far. Chief Sullivan has worked at different police departments in different parts of the country and said the higher number of officer shootings in Phoenix is because of a few different reasons. The first, he said, was the large size of the city, as other cities are smaller compared to Phoenix.

“It’s a little bit different. It’s a huge area,” he said. “The department is made up of hundreds of square miles. Many of these other cities that we look at and compare ourselves to are much smaller geographically and in population. One of the two big issues that we see over and over again we talk about mental health challenges and we also talk about addiction challenges. The challenges around fentanyl. Those are two common themes we see when talking about violence.”

The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department in August of 2021. They said on Thursday the investigation is still ongoing. Sullivan said they’re cooperating, and the feds will be back in Phoenix this spring. “I’ve had conversations and continue to have conversations with the Department of Justice,” he said. We’re going to do what we do to continue to assess, self-correct, get better and make sure we are in a position regardless of what the investigation finds.”

Back in January, the department took public input on tweaks to their use of force policy. The chief says they had many conversations about the policy since he took the job in September.

The chief says they want to take a holistic approach to policing, as each call is for a different reason. “By the time police get there and its a crisis situation, that’s a tough place for us to be,” he said. “We need to get above that; to be able to provide services to those folks before it becomes a crisis.”

The City of Phoenix says, based off of stats from 2018-2021, 0.003% of all police calls end in a shooting involving police.

If you want to look at the statistics on officer-involved shootings in Phoenix, you can find the city’s dashboard here.